13th Apr 2024

Data retention rift continues to bubble

Conservatives and socialists in the European Parliament have clinched a deal supporting an EU justice ministers' decision on data retention - which is substantially tougher than an earlier parliament version of the law.

With a majority of the MEPs now likely to approve the data retention law in a plenary vote next week, the year and a half long quarrel on storing phone data in order to trace terrorists and criminals is likely to come to an end.

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"We think it's important the legislation is passed quickly without further loss of time as it's urgently needed", a centre-right EPP group spokesman told agency Reuters on Wednesday (7 December).

However, the deal struck between the two party leaders will not remain uncontested, as smaller political groups in parliament have already protested over what they consider a move by the big parliament groups to sideline smaller groups, and to enter controversial EU laws via the backdoor.

Alexander Alvaro, German liberal member, criticised right-wing group leader Hans-Gert Pottering and socialist leader Martin Schulz for ignoring the civil liberties committee version of the law, voted for last month.

"They ripped us off", Alvaro is reported to have told Reuters on Wednesday.

Last week’s council proposal on data retention is tougher than a version earlier approved by the parliament's civil liberties committee.

The member states' deal says data should be stored for up to two years, while the committee believes a year is enough, supported by the telecommunication business which fears higher costs and loss in confidence from clients if they store the data longer.

The committee also wishes to see further safeguards to the right to privacy, and financial compensation for telecoms companies.

The parliament’s civil liberties committee is concerned that too wide access to the data will encourage law enforcement authorities to use the information for other offences than suspected terrorism or organised crime, such as illegal downloading of films and music from the internet.

Mr Alvaro believes national courts would challenge the legislation, as he thinks that for instance the German high court would "question very strongly if this is in line with our constitution."

The Irish justice minister announced last week, after being voted out by a majority the ministers at the council meeting, that he regards the matter as an issue between member states, excluding EU competence, and will bring the case before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) if the European Parliament approves the scheme.

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